Smart About Money: Avoiding Rental Fraud

Nick Maffeo

According to The Boston Globe, “An increasing number of people who are desperate to secure a place to rent are being duped out of thousands of dollars by online scammers.”

The article caught my attention. The word “desperate” really jumped out.

Scammers usually specialize in generating desperation. In fact, the bottom line of most scams is that the scammers get the victim to feel desperate – frantic, anxious, distressed – so they’ll act before confirming what they’ve been told.

As we saw during the pandemic, the desperation caused by events really seems to bring scammers out of the woodwork. When it becomes clear that large numbers of people are searching in a frenzy for essential items in limited supply, scammers jump on the easy opportunities. That’s where these rental scams come in.

Having seen a huge number of rental scams on the Cape, Provincetown Independent Managing Editor K.C. Myers wrote about how Craigslist “has refused to do anything to help” fight rental fraud. And it’s not just Craigslist, by any means.

According to Myers, one way to help protect yourself from rental fraud is to “cross-reference” a rental address with local city/town assessor’s records. The goal? To be sure that the person you’re dealing with is actually the owner of the property, if that’s what they’re claiming to be.

If you’re dealing with a self-described property manager or rental agent, you’ll want to take extra steps to look for red flags – especially when that’s the last thing you want to do because the place seems perfect and you’ve been looking for so long.

Is the rental agent rushing you or insisting that you have to wire money before you can see the rental? Is it impossible to speak to the owner/landlord because of some story – they’re out-of-touch or on vacation? Will the rental agent only connect online? Have you Googled the agent’s name and found nothing? These are just a few of the many, many possible red flags of a rental scam.

When it comes to essential items in limited supply – like housing in some areas right now – fighting against feelings of desperation will serve you best both in getting what you’re looking for and avoiding being scammed.

Plan to take breaks from your search for a rental, even if only for a few hours at a time. Avoid commiserating non-stop with people in the same situation. That often only makes it feel worse. Work on your search for a limited number of hours a day and, ideally, never in the middle of the night.

Look for a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, E and F that will buy you time and help keep you from becoming desperate. (One example: Some people are going with extended-stay hotels while working on finding a rental.)

Be slow to send deposit money, especially by wire. Under no circumstances send money to rent a place you (or a very trusted friend) haven’t seen in person.

Most important, if you find yourself feeling weirdly frantic, anxious and distressed when dealing with a “landlord” or “rental agent,” they might be a scammer pushing you. Be willing to walk away. That’s not rude. It’s keeping yourself from becoming a victim. Because when it comes to avoiding rental fraud or any fraud, you are likely your first, best and only line of defense.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office – in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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